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Theme park cast member stories: What time is the three o'clock parade?

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Published: June 6, 2010 at 10:18 PM

It's become a long-running joke among Disney cast members - the question that, inevitably, you hear any time you work a location on or near the Magic Kingdom parade route: "What time is the three o'clock parade?"

For many, the question illustrates what they consider to be the vacation-induced stupidity of theme park guests. I mean, c'mon, they just answered their question in the question. The parade's at three o'clock. Duh.

But as emotionally satisfying as it might seem to think yourself smarter than all those tourists out there, as a cast member, it's not your job to put people down. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's your job to do whatever you can to help them feel like they're having the best day of their lives.

So... no mocking the guests for asking the time of the three o'clock parade. Just fire up that Disney smile and give 'em the answer.

"3:15," I replied, when asked one day early in my Walt Disney World career.

I hadn't mean to say anything other than "3:00," but for some reason, I felt like I should respond with the time that the parade would pass the point where we were standing in Frontierland, instead of the time when the parade first stepped off on Main Street. (The afternoon parades back then stared on Main Street and proceeded around the hub and into Liberty Square before ending in Frontierland.)

The guest smiled and turned back toward his family, happy with my answer.

He'd known that the three o'clock parade started on Main Street at three o'clock. He wasn't the idiot that some short-sighted cast members made folks like him out to be. What that guest really wanted to know, and inelegantly asked, was "at what time does the three o'clock parade get here?"

Reflexively, I'd given him the correct answer.

Lesson learned. The answer you should give as a cast member isn't always to the question the guest asks. The answer you should give is to the question that the guest meant to ask.

From then on, I treated guest questions like I was Encyclopedia Brown on a case: Each one was a potential mystery to be unraveled, then solved.

A woman entering Pirates of the Caribbean who asked "Is this ride okay for kids?" really wanted to know if there were any snakes on the ride, because she had a phobia.

A couple who asked "How long does this ride take?" when boarding my Tom Sawyer Island raft didn't care how long it'd take me to drive the thing across the river. They wanted to know when they'd have to be back to the island-side dock so that they would make their 1:30 Diamond Horseshoe reservations.

Deciphering a guest question properly can save more than a restaurant reservation. A man outside Country Bear Jamboree who asked me, "Where can I rent a wheelchair?" really meant "My grandmother's passed out from the heat and could you call us a nurse, please?" (Fortunately, I figured that one out almost immediately, and had a medical "alpha unit" on the way within seconds.)

What time is the three o'clock parade? Maybe it's at 3:15, or 3:25, depending where you're standing when asked. Or maybe the correct answer is "I'm sorry, sir, but the parade doesn't come here into Tomorrowland." Or even "You'll hear an announcement if the parade is delayed or cancelled due to the weather."

The only thing stupid about questions like this one are the people who don't take the time and make the effort to find out what the person asking really needs to know.

To read more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on June 6, 2010 at 10:40 PM
Yeah, the 3 o clock parade question is an infamous one, but you got the real question.

Then again, I probably would have said stupidly 3pm thinking the guest did not realize they said the time of the parade.

From 155.91.45.231 on June 7, 2010 at 5:53 AM
Bravo, Robert! Incidentally, the same game exists for we librarians. There is not only a term for it, but an entire Master's level class, "the Reference Interview." It is an elegant skill, and akin to ESP.
From 204.39.176.32 on June 7, 2010 at 6:20 AM
While I was working at Splash Mountain, I visited the park on my day off. I was hanging out with the CM on duty at the exit of the ride, just a few feet away from the photo display area. While we were chatting, a man came up to my friend, pointed at the video screens showing recent ride photos, and, in all seriousness, asked her, "How do I know which picture is mine?" To her credit, she held it together and responded, "It's the one with you in it." He said, "Yeah, but how do I know which one it is?" The second time, she suggested that he ask the merchandise CM who was working the photo area for assistance since the ride ops don't work with the pictures at all. I was off to the side laughing hysterically with my roommates who had accompanied me to the park that day. It's still my all time favorite guest question. Second place has to be the time I got asked what the wait time for Spiderman was.
From Tyler Stover on June 7, 2010 at 7:11 AM
I'll even offer that sometimes the guest is asking the question they meant to ask, but the cast member has the opportunity to answer the question they should have asked. I had a guest ask where she could buy moleskin or band-aids in the park. Of course, she had blisters after wearing the entirely wrong type of shoes for the park, so I guided her to first aid and the free moleskin offered there.
From Robert Niles on June 7, 2010 at 7:25 AM
I'm guessing the person at Splash was confused about how to order. I would have gone with telling them to make a note of the number on the photo with the person in it and tell that to the merch CM. That, or the person's photo didn't come through, and he were confused because it wasn't on the board with everyone else's. That happens a lot, too.
From 192.43.65.245 on June 7, 2010 at 9:51 AM
Good article. My husband and I laughed recently on a trip to Epcot where we overheard a tourist ask a CM what the movie was about at the China exhibit. The poor CM looked confused and answered "China". Maybe the tourist was trying to ask something entirely different. He did look embarrassed as he walked away!
From 213.46.101.155 on June 7, 2010 at 10:03 AM
Respect for you and your explanation!!
I always thought it a bit annoying and arrogant reading this joke since it is quite obvious the person wants to know something else,

love reading your website ,
it's a nice moment to check it everyday and prepare myself for my first time to Disneyworld! (been in disneyland paris lots of times and last year at Disneyland)

Thanks for all the work you put in here,

kind regards,

Dominique,
Rotterdam,
Netherlands

From Jack Curley on June 7, 2010 at 10:45 AM
I wish I could be as optimistic as you. In my experience, the questions that people have asked me on vacation haven't had some secret, hidden meaning. Of course, I never worked at a theme park, I worked at a restaurant with a sunset view in Key West. Guests who missed the sunset would ask when the next one would be.
My personal favorite was a couple who were seated just a few minutes before the sun went down asking "Where exactly will the sun be setting?" I pointed to the sun, hovering a few inches above the water. "Do you see where the sun is now? Right below that."
It's a shame that so many people forget to pack their common sense when they go on vacation.
From M. Ryan Traylor on June 7, 2010 at 2:58 PM
At my work, we always break for lunch 6 hours after we start. Some people will constantly ask "What was crew call?". I will give them the answer and then watch them do the math. Other times I will just answer with the time we are expected to break for lunch.

There always seems to be a question behind the question.

From 66.66.140.92 on June 7, 2010 at 4:16 PM
I was at Hollywood Studios and overheard a kid asking his Mom if they could ride Tower of Terror. She replied no honey that's just a hotel.
From Robert Niles on June 8, 2010 at 10:37 AM
I think that the kid's question there really was: "Could someone else please help me find a mother who knows what the heck she's doing?" ;-)
From 99.37.175.224 on June 9, 2010 at 8:30 AM
As a Cast Member, I don't think you are being fair. Most people don't think about the question they are asking. They just expect for "us" to do whatever they ask, know what they are thinking and break the rules for them no matter what. If the sign says $20 on a table of tee shirts and a Guest asks me how much is the tee shirt,you don't think it's a little odd that they are asking the price when the big sign on the table has the price?

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